Marxist Theory and Oedipus the King
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (Marx and Engels 2). This excerpt, taken from Karl Marx's and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto, explains the two primary classes found throughout most of Europe during the era of the Industrial Revolution. These classes were the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The former were known as the "exploiters" and the latter as the "exploited".
The wealth, power, and prestige of the bourgeoisie, acquired mostly from their control of institutions, industries, and means of production, enabled them to force upon the proletariat their economic, political, and religious ideologies. These are the same ideologies "used to maintain certain social relations" (Eagleton 466). These very ideologies are what "make the masses loyal to the very institutions that are the source of their exploitation" (Tischler 16). Once the proletariat ceases to believe in or abide by those ideologies, revolt is inevitable, and the moment it occurs, so does the destruction or alteration of a single controlling and tyrannical power altogether. Thus, it can be said that "the bourgeoisie reign is doomed when economic conditions are ripe and when a working class united by solidarity, aware of its common interests and energized by an appropriate system of ideas, confronts its disunited antagonists" (Rideneir).
If the text of the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles is analyzed using this historical form of Marxist criticism, which is context-oriented, the perpetual class struggles within this society at Thebes is revealed.
Upon reading the play, there is an apparent class structure found throughout. In Oedipus Tyrannus, two main classes are easily identified: an upper class and a lower class. The upper class consisting of those having complete or ultimate authority over the people, such as the gods and those who rank slightly below the gods on a mortal level and belong to the ruling class. (E.g. Oedipus the king, Jocasta the queen, and Creon, the king's proxy, all belong to this upper class division.) These high-ranked officials rule the city's people directly whereas the gods rule them indirectly. That being said, the lower class then consists of those being ruled over, the citizens. This two-class system perceived throughout the play holds distinct similarities to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the Industrial Revolution.
Oedipus Tyrannus is a perpetual class struggle in that one of the two classes is constantly with some type of conflict. At the start of the play, for instance, the lower class is suffering plague and pollution. Although not revealed at first, this plague is caused by the actions of the upper class, much like how most of the proletariat's troubles are a direct result of the actions of the bourgeoisie.
The lower class suffers inevitably due to their exploitation by the upper class. The upper class, being the...